“God is good, a hiding place in tough times.” (Nahum 1:7a)
The Book of Nahum assures us that God is to be taken seriously and not to be trifled with. It also reminds us of another important aspect of God’s nature – He is good! In fact, there is no other being this can truly be said about. Comparatively speaking, I might say you are a good person, but what am I really implying? I’m merely stating that you are better than most. So long as you don’t abuse your spouse, kick your dog or curse your neighbors like some do, you are pretty good in my book. In reality, we all look pretty good comparatively. But is goodness really that subjective? Is it a personality trait that gets dosed out in varying degrees, where some hit the jackpot and others don’t? Can it be improved with experience, exercise or education? Is it subject to human potential? With respect to God, we would surely have to answer “no” to each of these questions. In His case, at least, goodness is a divine attribute, not a human one. And that is how scripture defines goodness. It is not something man can muster up. Yet we have come to think we can; all one needs do is look within.
Not only have we come to think man is intrinsically good, we have reduced goodness to something quantifiable, best graded on a curve. We simply size one fellow up to the next. There is a problem with this, though. When “others” become the standard, then we must also judge some to be bad. There is no way around it. And once we start making comparisons, we get into all kinds of tricky gray areas. How good does one have to be in order to score well? I can’t always make those calls. Neither can you. We are not qualified because, frankly, neither you nor I are “good” enough. Only God can judge. As for you and me, we are explicitly commanded not to go there.
Just to show you how ludicrous it is to grade goodness on a curve, I will give a little illustration. Suppose you crack open an egg only to discover it is rotten. In fact, it reeks to high heaven. I doubt you would say to yourself, “It’s not as rotten as some eggs. I’ll just go ahead and use it for my French toast.” Of course you wouldn’t say such a thing. The standard is not the other rotten eggs. I would hope you hold a much higher standard than that. And when it comes to goodness, all the eggheads of the world are not the standard. Just because I’m not as rotten as some doesn’t make me good. The Bible only offers one standard for goodness. Jesus put it like this, “there is none good but one, that is, God.” (See Matthew 19:17) You may remember when Jesus spoke those words. He was addressing a rich young ruler who thought he scored high in the “goodness” department. This proud fellow boasted of how he had kept his nose clean ever since he was a small tot. I don’t know about you, but if I were standing next to Jesus while He recited the commandments, I would feel lower than a maggot. And that is how it should be. The law wasn’t given to make us feel good about ourselves. It was given to show us how far short we fall.
By society’s standards, that rich young ruler would be considered a good person any day of the week. He was probably a model citizen, one many looked up to. But next to Jesus he had nothing to boast in. It would be like holding a small appliance light bulb up to the sun. One surely outshines the other. So it is when we compare our goodness to the Lord’s. We are like those puny little bulbs. We don’t reflect a very high standard. We are not adequate for measuring perfection. Only Jesus is.
Having established that God alone is good, let us now consider a couple follow-up questions. The first may seem a little elementary: what is good? As basic as that seems, we might be surprised to learn a thing or two. The next question will take us a little deeper: what evidence do we have of God’s goodness? Before going there, though, it is important we understand the real meaning of “good.”
What is Good?
Dictionary.com offers no less than forty-five answers to the above question. Topping the list we find this string of definitions: morally excellent; virtuous; righteous. This agrees with the biblical idea of good. Despite what our post-modern world tells us, there is a moral component to goodness. The popular thought today is that I get to decide which morals work for me and you decide which work for you. But without absolutes, how does one decide who is morally excellent and who isn’t? You can’t. Therefore, in a post-modern world, goodness doesn’t really mean anything at all. I can call abortion good, or pornography or even adultery. And who are you to tell me different? This is why many today say morality can’t be legislated There are no absolutes, according to these liberal thinkers. Individual preference is the rule of the day. These preferences are based more upon convenience than conviction, and what is true today may not be true tomorrow. However, when Jesus insisted, “there is none good but one, that is, God,” he was obviously dealing with an absolute based upon a standard much higher than man’s personal preferences. Furthermore, Jesus was declaring that God decides what is good, not man.
Now let’s talk about virtue. One might strive for moral excellence, but that does not necessarily make him virtuous. In other words, I might be “good” at keeping all the rules but that doesn’t mean my heart is right. I might not even like the rules but I step up because I am expected to or, perhaps, I fear the consequences if I don’t. Take the Pharisees for example. They were morally excellent people with extremely rigid standards, but their hearts were hard as stone. And I’m sure you remember Jesus telling His disciples, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (**Matthew 5:28) While moral excellence has to do with our better judgment, virtue goes much deeper. It cuts to the heart. The virtuous person makes righteous choices, not because he is told to but because he wants to. And what exactly does that word ‘righteous’ mean? The term used in the original Old Testament manuscripts was ‘yashar’ which is Hebrew for ‘straight.’ Once again we are dealing with a very strict standard. There is crooked and there is straight, you are either one or the other. Another way to look at righteousness is ‘the condition of being right.’ With respect to morality and virtue we ask ourselves: Are my morals right? Is my heart right? The bigger question would be: Am I right with God? The term righteous is used countless times throughout the Bible, usually to describe the nature of God. But what does scripture say about man’s righteousness?
“There is none righteous, no, not one.” (**Romans 3:10)
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”(**Isaiah 64:6a)
This is bad news. The reason being is that only the righteous can be saved. Where does that leave you and me? Our “good” simply isn’t good enough. Bottom line – we’re doomed! There is a solution, of course, and we will discuss it as we tackle our next question.
What Evidence Do We Have of God’s Goodness?
There are two constant themes in the Bible, one we like while the other we don’t particularly care for, yet both attest to God’s goodness. These two themes are judgment and salvation. We readily recognize salvation as good, but judgment is another matter. That never sounds good, does it? However, when God judges the wicked, like the Ninevites for example, He operates from a disposition of moral excellence, virtue and righteousness. The first six words of John 3:16 also help to explain why the good Lord would judge wickedness: “For God so loved the world.” We certainly see this in the case of Nineveh. God’s people were caught in Nineveh’s evil clutches, so He saved one and judged the other. It was much like when the Jews were delivered from the Nazis. Most would agree that was a “good” thing.
Though judgment is a constant theme throughout the Bible, it is not a well received one. But that is exactly what God saves us from. Because none are righteous, all must be judged. I know that doesn’t sound very pleasant, but that is how it works. However, it is possible to escape judgment. In this way God is a hiding place in tough times. TheNinevites had the opportunity to escape judgment, as did the Egyptians in the Exodus account, but they declined. When it comes right down to it, they chose the judgment of God over the salvation of God. And that is the choice all of us are given today. We decide whether we want salvation or judgment, life or death, heaven or hell. The ball is in our court. The Lord allows us to choose simply because He is good.
Thankfully, we live in a day and age where God is withholding judgment. Oh, it will come alright. You can read all about it in the Book of Revelation. Indeed, God has appointed a time when He will pour His wrath upon all unrighteousness. No one really knows when that day will be. The angels don’t even have it on their calendars. Rest assured, though, a time is coming when evil man will be judged. However, God has made a way for escape. That problem of ours, that bit about none are righteous, He took care of it. It required a huge sacrifice on His part but, because He loved us, He suffered the cost. God sent His only begotten Son to pay for every unrighteous deed ever committed or ever will be committed. And because we have no righteousness of our own, God imputes to us His. All we need to do is believe in Him and who He sent. Yes, it’s that simple. We are saved by grace through faith. Why? Because God is good!
Excerpt from “My City Was Gone” by Terry Michaels
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Calvary Chapel of Austin Church
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